Longtime Bronx Catholic School Priest Admits Sexually Abusing Children: Officials

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NBC 4 New York

A longtime Catholic school priest at a renowned New York City school has admitted to sexually abusing minors in the 1970s and 1980s, and local prosecutors are now investigating, authorities say. 

Father Robert Harrison, a priest who taught for 26 years and coached basketball for more than 20 years at the all-boys Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, has been removed from the school and is barred from any sort of ministry as church and law enforcement officials investigate.

The school's president, Father Joseph P. Tierney, told parents in a letter Monday that Harrison made the sex abuse revelations during an inquiry into his personal finances.

"As of now, we have not received any allegations from victims/survivors, and based upon information that we have received from Father Harrison thus far, it does not appear that any of the abuse involved students from Cardinal Hayes," said Tierney. 

Tierney said neither the school nor the Archdiocese of New York received an allegation of improper behavior concerning Harrison. 

It's not clear why Harrison's finances were being investigated. 

The school and the Archdiocese immediately dismissed Harrison from his position at the high school and referred the matter to the district attorney offices in the Bronx and Manhattan, as well as in Milwaukee, according to Tierney. Harrison said he abused students in all three places.  

Tierney urged parents with any concerns or suspicions to contact prosecutors. 

"The safety of your children is our highest priority, and we strive to maintain the safest environment possible for our students," he said. "We will continue to cooperate with the civil authorities as they investigate this matter." 

Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said Tierney gathered students at the school in two separate groups on Monday to explain the investigation into Harrison. He said students were encouraged to come forward if they experienced any abuse.

Harrison has been allowed by the local district attorneys to leave New York to begin "risk assessment" under the supervision of his religious community, the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph, which is based in Detroit. 

The Province said in a statement that Harrison is currently at a professional facility where he's not allowed to have any contact with minors. 

"We are deeply saddened and sorry for what has occurred," the statement said. 

"The abuse of any child is a crime and a sin. We know that there have been times when children and youth entrusted to our care have been harmed; for that we are deeply sorry," it continued. "While we cannot undo the harm that was done in the past, we are committed to doing what we can to prevent any future harm and to assisting those who have been hurt by a Capuchin Friar."

More than 900 students are enrolled in grades 9 through 12 at Cardinal Hayes High School, according to its website. The renowned Catholic school is known for famous alum including Regis Philbin, Jets player Willie Colon and former NBA player Jamal Mashburn. 

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